This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
What this performance triumphantly confirms is the extraordinary voltage of intensity that Sinopoli regularly creates in the recording studio.
Few conductors excite such widely contrasted opinions as Giuseppe Sinopoli, and I am sure that this electrifying new set of Macbeth will add fuel to the fire of argument. Anyone not prepared for a new experience, with new detail revealed, who insists on traditional views, is unlikely to enjoy it. On one level Sinopoli is constantly calling attention to this or that detail in the score whether in phrasing, dynamic or tempo, and for those who are resistent that may be distracting. But what this latest recording triumphantly confirms is the extraordinary voltage of intensity that
Sinopoli regularly creates even—or perhaps particularly—in the recording studio. Claudio Abbado (DG) and Riccardo Muti (HMV) are themselves among the most electrifying of virtuoso conductors today, equally representing a heritage from the land of Toscanini, and their versions of Macbeth are both among their finest opera recordings, but in almost every scene it has been a revelation to set them beside Sinopoli's new recording, made like Abbado's in conjunction with a stage production, and find the drama made even more sharply explicit with the central relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth given not only power but a truly Shakespearean subtlety in its light and shade.
It is clear that Sinopoli is reluctant to recognize any such separate category as 'early Verdi'. More convincingly than I have ever known before, Macbeth is here integrated as a fully mature Verdi opera, if one where many psychological developments are implicit rather than explicit, so that even the seemingly conventional 'rum-ti-turn' of choruses of witches and assassins is given with a sense of mystery and no apology, not just fun intrusions but contributions to this drama. It is obviously right that Sinopoli should adopt the 1865 Paris revision with no insertion of Macbeth's superfluous death aria in the final scene from the 1847 original. As he puts it himself: "What interests me in the young Verdi is the violence of the message, with very few means, the radical use of language and the absolute lack of rhetorical line." Sinopoli in effect integrates the notable additions of the 1865 score—Lady Macbeth's "La luce langue" of Act 2, the Refugees' Chorus and final chorus of Act 4—and makes the result seem rivetingly consistent, where it can so easily seem stylistically disjointed. Significantly, the moment in "La luce langue" where on a pianissimo Andante sostenuto Lady Macbeth sings "Ai trapassati regnar non cale; A loro un requiem, l'eternita" ("The dead do not care to reign; for them a requiem, eternity") more than ever brings a reminder of both the Verdi Requiem and the Ave Maria from Otello.
The opening prelude, in which Sinopoli adopts an unusually slow speed for the sleepwalking motif (as he does in the actual scene in Act 4), conveys unusual refinement and mystery, and the extra breadth and spaciousness of the digital recording (very different from the DG sound for Sinopoli's recording of Nabucco, also recorded in Berlin) enhances the refinement. Another characteristically unexpected touch worth noting specially comes in the climactic ensemble of Act I. where on the words "Lira tua" soloists and chorus all join in a swinging unison melody. Muti takes the traditional view and gives that moment Verdi's 'grand barrel-organ' treatment, ripe and gutsy, while Abbado, a shade more restrained, is very similar. Sinopoli by contrast notes the marking grandioso and applies that to the tempo, adopting a far slower speed, but then as a key point notes the dynamic marking piano, so that again you have mystery rather than barrel-organ surge. Some will be thrilled by the result, just as others will resist.
If there is a scene which more than any sums up the special qualities of Sinopoli's reading, it is the banqueting scene of Act 2. The very opening brings a frenetically fast Allegro brillante (Abbado and Muti are both crisper and less rushed), but one quickly forgives the momentary breathlessness, when the scene so promptly brings an account of Lady Macbeth's Brindisi which in its lightness and urgency makes the rivals seem heavy and slow. From then on a key point which Sinopoli brings out more consistently than his rivals is observance of the frequent marking sotto voce. When Lady Macbeth challenges her husband with "E un uomo voi siete?" ("Are you a man?") and later "Voi siete demente?" ("Are you mad?") when he responds to the ghost, the thread of sound produced by Mara Zampieri is spine-chilling. Then after the disappearance of the ghost for the first time, when Lady Macbeth resumes the Brindisi, instead of getting her to launch in as though nothing has happened, she conveys unease at a slower speed, working back to the previous swagger until the second appearance of the ghost brings sudden interruption, here made the more chilling. Bruson like Zampieri shades his voice superbly in his monologues, and the hushed resolution on "La vita riprendo", when at last he feels reassured, again speaks of the close working together of conductor and principals, achieved not just on stage but in long preliminary discussion of the libretto.
Everyone will welcome the fact that Bruson has now recorded a role with which he has long been closely associated. Broadly, comparing the recordings, you might say that where Cappuccilli (Abbado) gives the most beautiful performance tonally (not quite what I expected even after his masterly performances in the Salzburg Festival production this summer) and Milnes (Muti) gives a strong, outward-going reading, vividly inflecting words at times to the detriment of the vocal line, Bruson is dramatically the most varied of the three, finding the widest variety of colouring and dynamic, always characterizing in musical terms, never explosively.
Mara Zampieri, also from Padua, will, I suspect, be a more controversial choice as Lady Macbeth, not because of her characterization, which as I have already indicated is subtle and aptly disturbing, but because of the very voice quality as recorded. This is a powerful, incisive voice which relies so little on vibrato that the result at times comes close to a hoot. Any attempt to colour the tone by sitting even microscopically under the note is immediately exaggerated by the microphone, as it is with such a singer as Galina Vishnevskaya, whom in some ways Zampieri resembles. I am also reminded of Ghena Dimitrova, who was the Lady Macbeth in Salzburg, but where Dimitrova on stage sang too loud and rarely allowed herself a pianissimo, Zampieri heightens the impact of her bright, precise climaxes—with colouratura and ornaments finely articulated—by the many moments of hushed intensity. Both Shirley Verrett for Abbado and Fiorenza Cossotto for Muti give fine, memorable performances, both warmer tonally, but Zampieri unlike them is clearly not a mezzo but a soprano. She has no trouble with the culminating D flat in the sleep-walking scene and the touch of rawness is certainly in character. I look forward to hearing much more from her.
Neil Schicoff in his first major recording rle makes a strong impression as Macduff, more individual and detailed than his rivals if not quite so rounded of tone. "Ah la paterna mano" in Act 4 is rousingly done. Robert Lloyd is a strong and forthright Banquo if not so distinctive as Raimondi for Muti or so dark and weighty as Ghiaurov for Abbado. One also welcomes so stylish a tenor as Claes Ahnsji5 as Malcolm, and the rest of the cast including chorus and orchestra has plainly benefited from working with Sinopoli on the piece in the opera house. The recording, as I say, puts more space round voices and instruments than either the DG or HMV, and gains also from the extra depth and clarity of digital recording. I am sorry there is a side-break immediately before "La luce langue" after the preceding recitative, but considerately the transfer engineers have included some very useful bands for finding scenes or—if so desired—omitting the ballet of Act 3. I look forward to Sinopoli's recording of Rigoletto also for Philips with Bruson as principal.
-- Gramophone [10/1984]
reviewing the original LP release
Works on This Recording
Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi
Neil Shicoff (Tenor),
Renato Bruson (Baritone),
Claes H. Ahnsjö (Tenor),
Mara Zampieri (Soprano),
Robert Lloyd (Bass)
Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus
Written: 1847/1865; Italy
Length: 163 Minutes 0 Secs.
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